I was born and raised in Sanodumma, Bhojpur, a remote village in the Eastern Nepal. Running was a part of my life in ways unknown to me. I still remember how I used to jump from rock to rock, the trees and cliffs I used to climb to gather fuel, fodder and grass, the spring down the hill where I hauled containers of water, and to the school yet further down which took me half an hour to reach.
My home is a beautiful place, but life was not more than a tough agricultural toil with no other opportunities. I would walk with my mother on a pre-dawn till post-dusk journey to buy as much rice as we could carry on our backs to sell in a small market some hours from home. My father would have a tough time to put food on our table. So, I stopped going to school and hauled heavy bags of rice up and down the steep trails to trade in the market for a livelihood.
I wanted to break free from my rural village lifestyle, break the gender stereotype and do something significant to support my family. It was the sense of urgency and desperation that led me to join the Maoist Army.
THE CHILD SOLDIER
When I was 14, in the last years of Nepal’s ten-year civil war, I told my mother that I’d be back in a couple of days and went with the Maoist rebels who were then camping in my village. I was determined to leave my home with hopes and dreams of doing greater and different things for me and my family.
Sports intrigued me when I was in the army. I started with karate and then participated in football, volleyball and running. Two years after I joined, a peace accord was signed, and the Maoist army was due to be merged with the state army, but I had to leave the ranks with other young minors.
“I’d always wanted to leave my village and do something with my life. The Maoists said they would give me opportunities, and that women and men were treated equally.”
Years later, after the completion of my agriculture course in Sindhuli, I made a decision to go to Malaysia for better opportunities. However, I dropped that idea when my former karate instructor, Dhurba Bikram Malla invited me to try finding success in competitive running in Kathmandu. In 2014, broke and ready to abandon my dreams, I met some runners whom I followed to the outskirts of the city to the hills of Shivapuri. They asked me to join on Saturday morning, which I thought was an ordinary training run, only to find that I had inadvertently entered a race of Himalayan Outdoor Festival. Nine hours of climbing 3000m, rain and a hailstorm, no proper runner gear and shoes, and 50 kilometers later, I was the only woman who had completed the course. That was the day when I took home the first pair of Salomon shoes with me and met my mentor, Richard Bull.
Richard Bull helped me stay in Kathmandu, supporting me in my training, with necessary equipment and a bicycle too but with no races to work towards. Fast forward to August, I was in Europe, and I got to watch the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), one of the biggest trail-running events in Europe. For 6 weeks I was supported and trained by Tite Togni and competed in and won two mountain races in Italy.
After my international debut in the races in Italy, I participated in a couple of races in Hong Kong after which Salomon took me under their wing. It is a moment unforgettable because never in my dreams I had ever imagined to be part of an international brand’s team.
It seems like yesterday approaching the finishing line in Chamonix when I had nothing in my mind besides running and I forgot about the thousands of eyes on me; maybe it was the split emotions of grief of the tragic news of the devastating earthquake back home and the exhilarating joy of holding my country’s flag in the finish line. But I was overwhelmed with the flood of support from Nepali people all over the world which motivated me even more to do something for my country.
I feel grateful for how Richard has treated me since the first day we met and all the support he has given me. I feel very lucky to have lived so many great moments with him and my Salomon team, and to have conquered so many things together. I cannot imagine the number of days and nights they have spent to help me reach the place that I am in today. They have shown me the path and the direction on which I ran till I made it.
I believe that people should grab the opportunity when it comes knocking at your door. But there are so many young talented runners across different parts of Nepal who are without any knowledge about running let alone have opportunities or a platform. Mira Rai Initiative was founded in 2017 to commit to use the platform and the voice I have to empower trail runners in Nepal, especially female and promote trail running as the mainstream adventure sport in Nepal.
This initiative will give the young female athletes an opportunity to chase their dreams and defy the challenges that hold them back. Mira Rai Initiative has been working with the Hong Kong Trail Running group since 2018 to run an Exchange and Empower program that aims to provide young talented female runners the opportunity to focus on athletic training, education and their professional development.
Since 2017, every year five girls from different backgrounds have been given the opportunity through the ENE program where they were provided with the opportunity to participate in international trail races and experience and enrich their cross-cultural learning process. As this program aims to give opportunity to women from disadvantaged and underprivileged communities, in the coming years, we also want to provide this platform to women belonging to LGBTI and victims of human trafficking and help them take a step forward to nullify the stigma based around their identity and to assist them into rehabilitating into the society through sports.